Well, wouldn’tcha know: Here’s a surprisingly satisfying ending for a series that was in danger of losing its way on multiple occasions. We finally get at the truth of the big Joseon mystery, and I was pleasantly surprised with how well it worked with the plot we’ve seen thus far, and the characterizations of our characters (in both time zones).

I’ve always wanted to go back to the Joseon times more, and missed the story that got left hanging after the first episode, so I was reminded of how I felt when beginning the show. It makes me think that it was a shame the show didn’t capitalize on the past storyline more, though I can see that the whole point was in making the future the key to the past.

In any case, if a flagging drama had to pull out one really strong episode amid a bunch of middling ones, the finale sure is the place to do it. It seems viewers agreed, since the finale pulled Rooftop Prince into first place after giving up that slot to Equator Man for weeks; it went out with a 14.8%, while Equator closed with a 14.1%. The King 2 Hearts ended on an 11.8% rating.

SONG OF THE DAY

Fanny Fink – “Hear Song” [ Download ]

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FINAL EPISODE RECAP

Yi Gak disappears from the modern world, leaving Park-ha crying on her lonely rooftop. As for the other side of the wormhole? We find Yi Gak reappearing in his own era, still dressed in his wedding suit, sitting in a barn.

It’s a strange sight for the locals, and he attracts stares as they pass by the marketplace. Then a team of policemen barrel through the crowd right for him, yelling, “Stop! Capture him!” Who, me? turns into OhcrapRUN!

As he flees, he literally runs right into Chi-san, who’s also running, still dressed in the same shorts and flip-flops he was in when he disappeared from the 21st century. Wait, have you been running for two whole days? Or does the wormhole dump all travelers into the same time, despite staggered departures?

Lucky for them, these are incompetent officers who lose him in plain sight. Though I suppose since they’re Prince Yi Gak’s line of defense, maybe not so lucky after all.

The boys briefly split up in the chase, and when Yi Gak finds Chi-san, he’s unconscious in the street with blood smeared on his face. He moans in pain… and then licks the blood away—ketchup, his favorite trick—and asks, “They’re gone, right?” HA, and now it makes sense why Chi-san was eating a hamburger in the car when he vanished, because now he clutches a small foil ketchup packet. Handy, that.

They’re safe from the authorities, but now the problem is how to get back to the palace without being immediately cast away as crazies. Thankfully, Yi Gak spies something in the distance: two ordinary-looking Joseon men, drinking from beer cans. Haha.

Looks like Man-bo and Yong-sool’s ever-present backpacks saved their hides after all. They didn’t leap with Joseon money, but they were able to trade a pack of gum for a full meal; a little modern marvel goes a long way.

Thirsty Yi Gak reaches for a drink, but the can is empty and Yong-sool reminds him (a little defensively, heh) that they were responsible for their own belongings. (As in, If you wanted one, you should’ve packed one.) Fortunately, Man-bo thought to pack the prince’s royal garb, which eliminates their biggest concern.

Elsewhere, Minister Hong—Bu-yong and Hwa-yong’s father—is informed of the prince’s shocking reappearance at the palace, which he does not take as good news. If Dad’s reaction weren’t enough to tip us off that he’s secretly aligned against the prince, how about the fact that his partner (dun dun dun!) has Tae-mu’s face? (Apparently his name is Muchang-gun, but no need to introduce new names at this point, is there? Joseon Tae-mu it is.)

Minister Hong angrily tells Joseon Tae-mu that the prince was reportedly taken care of last night when he was chased through the forest. Ahh, so the boys have returned just one day after their initial time-leap, and Joseon Tae-mu did try to assassinate him. Heh, so his incompetence as a murderer spans time and space; good to know some things are consistent.

Lord Tae-mu gets up, takes his sword out, and slices down the two henchmen stationed outside: “It appears that the assassins made a mistake last night.”

The ducklings return to the palace to meet the prince after having some time to go home, see their families, and dress in their old clothing. They’re puzzled at the inconsistency of the time lapse as well, which resulted in one sisterly, “Ew, gross, get away,” when Man-bo gave his sister a bear hug in relief, since she’d just seen him the day before.

They wonder if it could have been a dream, and at Man-bo’s modern reply of, “No way, that’s crazy,” Yi Gak reminds them all to remember their Joseon mannerisms. Ha, now they’re fish out of water in their own time zones. Talk about monster jet lag.

Now that everyone’s back in their rightful places, it’s time to turn their attention to that mystery. The prince orders his team to set up a special division at the Euigeumbu (the Joseon department investigating crimes under the king’s decree), and to summon the princess’s family there.

Bu-yong’s mother can’t understand the summons, and she’s still grieving for her daughter. But Minister Hong understands the greater politics at play and declares that it’ll all be over soon: “Either I will die, or the Crown Prince will.”

Thus they are rounded up and brought before Yi Gak, who asks if they understand why they’re here and where Bu-yong is. Minister Hong claims complete innocence regarding Hwa-yong’s death, and his wife explains that Bu-yong is shut in her room, suffering from a contagious disease.

But Yi Gak isn’t here to find out answers, but to reveal them. He begins with the death seven days ago:

In flashback, we see Bu-yong looking wistfully at the prince, hidden around a corner as he walks through the courtyard. She trips and falls, dropping a cosmetics container with powder, which spills to the ground.

Yi Gak comes up behind her as she’s crouched on the ground and has a little fun teasing her. He offers his hand, tsk-tsks about her tripping yet again, and asks about the dropped container. Bu-yong identifies it as face powder sent to the princess by their older brother.

Yi Gak is delighted to hear that she hasn’t been able to figure out his puzzle—what dies though it lives, and lives though it dies?—and says that if she doesn’t produce the answer by tomorrow, he wins.

Bu-yong visits unni Hwa-yong in the palace and makes her deliveries: the powder from their brother, and a letter from their father. Bu-yong notes that the powder smells a little different, wondering if it’s because it’s from China, and asks to take a look. But Hwa-yong—who opened the letter looking disturbed—snaps at her not to touch it, rattled by whatever Daddy wrote her. To kill the prince, perhaps?

There’s one last thing, and Bu-yong hands over a new handkerchief she has embroidered for the prince. But Hwa-yong is so upset by the letter that she barks at Bu-yong to leave.

Bu-yong arrives home while Joseon Tae-mu is sitting with her father, and the two men clam up at the sight of her. Curious at their unfamiliar guest, Bu-yong asks her mother about him, and learns that he is Muchang-gun, the prince’s half-brother. He’s such an obscure prince that Bu-yong has never heard of him, but that’s because he was kicked out of the palace when he was three, when his mother was dethroned.

Bu-yong starts to wonder at the curious circumstances, especially when her mother dismisses her questions and says vaguely that it’s Dad’s business. The clues are too odd to ignore, and she muses that the powder didn’t smell like cosmetics. She remembers her father’s letter, which she was instructed to bring back after the princess had read, which she forgot to convey back to Dad.

Bu-yong takes it out and reads the ominous contents: “Your Highness, today is the day. Listen to your father’s words carefully, you must not make a mistake.”

Bu-yong understands that a plot is under way, just as Minister Hong remembers that he was supposed to get the letter from her. He sends his underling (brother? son?) to retrieve it, which is found in Bu-yong’s room, open and clearly read.

She’s gone, though, having raced away to the palace, desperate to interrupt the deadly plot. Joseon Tae-mu can’t have that and orders his men to capture her, killing her if necessary. His coup is on the line.

As Bu-yong runs, we hear the rest of the letter’s contents: That Hwa-yong is to handle the dried persimmons at their nightly tea, distracting the prince long enough to sprinkle the powder on top.

So Hwa-yong presents the prince with his new handkerchief, and while he admires it, she poisons the persimmon and serves him tea. He comments that he met her sister today, and that he saw her tripping and spilling that face powder. The longer he talks, the more nervous Hwa-yong gets, shaking in guilt and fear.

Just as he reaches for the persimmon, Bu-yong is announced. She has to explain her presence somehow, and Hwa-yong rebukes her for ignoring the rules, telling her to come back tomorrow. Both sisters distractedly eye the persimmons—one needs the prince to eat it, the other is relieved they’re yet untouched.

Yi Gak is in a generous mood, though, so he allows her to stay and asks what she has to say. Bu-yong replies that she has solved the puzzle, making him chuckle. He’d told her she had until tomorrow, so this is her way of winning the bet (he assumes).

She says, “The answer is… Bu-yong (lotus).” Hwa-yong smirks at the audacity of naming herself, but the prince asks for the explanation. Bu-yong explains how the lotus is a flower that grows in a pond, whose roots go deep below into the ground, where all living things die. In order to flower, the lotus takes in that which has died; even though it lives, the flower must die for its seeds to again fall to the ground to bring new life. Furthermore, in Buddhism the samsara is a concept of the birth-life-death cycle, which is represented by the lotus.

Yi Gak laughs at that, impressed, and concedes that he lost again. By now Hwa-yong is edgy and impatient, and dismisses her sister. But Bu-yong can’t just go, and asks for her reward: the persimmon.

Aww, that’s so sad. And a helluva lot more poignant a sacrifice than running in front of a car, because while the situations are paralleled, the actual mechanism of the conflict works much better in this intrigue-laden Joseon era, with treason and coups and betrayals galore. (She can’t reveal the truth without condemning her entire family to ruination and execution, so she’ll just eat the poison and save the prince.)

Hwa-yong looks troubled while the prince finds the request paltry, but Bu-yong entreats him to comply, saying that this is what she needs right now. With trembling hands, she takes them and eats, every last one. And Hwa-yong doesn’t say a thing.

When she’s done, the prince calls it a night, and Bu-yong asks him to live in peace. Hwa-yong hangs her head, blinking back her own tears. When Bu-yong leaves, she’s already feeling the effects and stumbles weakly. She asks the court lady that if the princess should look for her later, to meet her at the Lotus Pavilion.

Then, with difficulty, she staggers out to wait by the pond, breathing painfully, remembering all her times with the prince.

After the prince goes to sleep, Hwa-yong slips away with two court ladies, heading to the pavilion. She leaves them outside the building, then faces her dying sister inside. I’m going to give Hwa-yong a wee bit of credit in thinking that she is rightfully horrified that her sister is dying, even if her first words are to blame Bu-yong for “ruining everything.” But it’s very wee.

Hwa-yong points out that Bu-yong’s big sacrifice isn’t going to fix much, since once she’s dead it’ll be easily discovered that she was poisoned, and their whole family will be killed if it is linked to an attempt on the prince’s life. But Bu-yong pleads with her sister for one last request, to protect the prince.

To that end, she has a plan: Dress Bu-yong in the princess’s clothes and pass off her corpse for Hwa-yong’s. If her body is believed to be the princess’s, it’ll deflect the suspicion away from an assassination attempt on the prince (whereas, nobody has cause to murder a nobody like Bu-yong, so if her body were discovered, the inquest would continue). This means Hwa-yong will have to give up her identity as the princess, but it would spare the family’s life. Furthermore, without his connection to the princess, their father loses his position of power and therefore he can no longer be a threat to the prince, and therefore the coup against Yi Gak will stall.

Time is running out, and Bu-yong gasps in pain that they must hurry. The women trade clothing.

Outside, however, Joseon Tae-mu is on the prowl, dressed in dark assassin’s clothing. He spies the court ladies and approaches the Lotus Pavilion, and cuts them down—finally, a successful murder! Yay?

Hwa-yong, dressed in Bu-yong’s clothes and face mask, emerges from the pavilion alone and runs to her father’s house. Bu-yong, meanwhile, starts to cough up blood. She clutches a letter in one hand and rises with difficulty to hide it behind a screen.

Outside, she looks into the water for long moments, shaking in pain and fear as she prepares herself. Murmuring, “Your Highness,” Bu-yong closes her eyes and falls into the water to her death.

End of flashback. In the “present” day Joseon timeline, Yi Gak finishes relating this story to the Hong family with angry condemnation.

Minister Hong insists that it was the princess who died, and it seems like the parents really are surprised. Yi Gak challenges them, asking if they can be absolutely sure that the sickly daughter at home is Bu-yong. He orders his ducklings to search the household for Bu-yong, and accompanies his team of special investigators to scour the property.

She is discovered hiding, and Yi Gak reaches to uncover her face, just as they hear the approach of attackers. It’s Joseon Tae-mu and his team of rebels, leading to a skirmish in the courtyard. He seizes his bow and arrow and shoots at Yi Gak… getting him square in the chest. Oh noes!

Yong-sool corners Joseon Tae-mu, though, stopping him in his tracks with a sword to the throat. And curiously, Yi Gak doesn’t seem to be in pain as he pulls the arrow from his chest. Aw, did his marriage pendant save his life?

Now he turns back to Hwa-yong, ordering her to raise her head to face him. He pulls the mask from her face, and sees his wife. That confirms everything, and he looks at her with furious contempt. Hwa-yong grabs his legs and begs for mercy, crying that she knows nothing, pleading for her life. Yi Gak thunders, “How is it that a wicked thing like you could be the princess?! It is not me to whom you should beg for your life—you should beg it from Bu-yong!”

He orders everyone rounded up and taken to the Euigeumbu to be charged as traitors. His men rush to his side, and he reveals the pendant Park-ha gave him, now dented from the arrow. He tells them, “Park-ha saved my life once more. Dummy.”

Hour of judgment. Yi Gak charges Minister Hong for the attempt on his life, and orders father and son executed by beheading. He charges his half-brother, whom he’d thought of favorably despite their long estrangement, with the same crime and punishment. In memory of Bu-yong’s sacrifice, he spares Hwa-yong and her mother, but strips the princess of her crown and sends them into exile.

Some time later, Yi Gak walks along that bridge alone now, thinking of Park-ha. He makes his way into the Lotus Pavilion, his gaze settling on the screen against the wall. The painted butterfly glows briefly, bringing him closer, and that leads him to a discovery: the letter Bu-yong had slipped between the panels.

He rips the letter out of hiding and reads the words she’d written in her dying moments.

“Your Highness, if you are reading this letter it means you are alive, and that makes me, Bu-yong, happy. There is one thing that is good about dying. I am glad that I can now say the words I have long held in my heart. I loved you, Your Highness. I cared for you my entire life. That which lives despite dying, and dies though living—even hundreds of years later, I will love you.”

Yi Gak sheds tears, and then has an idea, scrambling to write a letter of his own, which starts, “Park-ha-ya, I arrived safely. How are you?” He rolls up the paper and slips it into a tube, then tucks that into the palace hiding place he’d once shown her, where he retrieved her jade wedding pendant.

Back to the present, where Park-ha returns to the palace. She finds the hiding spot and feels around, hoping for something. She does, and opens the tube with anticipation, finding the old, yellowed parchment.

The letter continues:

“If you are able to read this letter, three hundred years will have passed. And if this letter finds its ways into your hands, I take back my words calling you Dummy. Is your fruit juice business going well? I can only imagine how you are doing, unable to touch you. I miss you like crazy. I want to hear your voice, and touch you. If I could die and meet you, I would die right now.”

And then, a familiar face arrives to order an apple juice. She’s in such a daze that he has to call to her twice, and then she doesn’t even spare him a glance. It’s Tae-yong, or is it Yi Gak?, and he smiles pleasantly at her.

The letter goes on to say, “I should have said I love you more. Park-ha-ya, I love you. I miss your smiling face like crazy. You must be well.”

The customer pays and keeps looking at Park-ha expectantly, like he wants her to look at him. But she barely notices, and he leaves.

Back to Joseon, where our ducklings… have set up a food stand of their own, selling—what else?—omurice. They even make their own fresh ketchup, bickering like old friends, and Chi-san even plugs in his iPod to ignore Man-bo’s nagging. Ha. What’re you gonna do when those batteries die, huh?

The boys make their delivery to the prince, and then poof, instead of their Joseon hanboks they’re wearing those comfy newfangled tracksuits, so they can eat their omurice in comfort. HAHA. Okay, that’s pretty cute.

They wolf down their food like old times, but as he finishes, Yi Gak finds himself on the verge of tears and sad thoughts. He makes an excuse, but the boys know what troubles him, and offer him a park-ha peppermint as dessert. And today, Yong-sool gets the evil eye for crunching into his, hee.

2012. Park-ha arrives at work to find a postcard of the Seoul Tower stuck into her front door, with a note asking her to meet there tonight.

On the flipside is a new sketch of her, depicting her at her juice blender, with Tae-yong’s familiar initials in the corner. And THAT gets her attention, finally.

She arrives at the meeting point and waits for a while, masses of tourists passing by in a blur. When the crowd disperses, one person is left standing by her side, looking at her with an expectant gaze.

It’s Tae-yong (or is it?), and he asks, “Why are you so late? I’ve been waiting for a long time.” Park-ha asks where he’s been, because “I was here the whole time.”

He’s looking at her like he knows her, but it’s not entirely clear which incarnation this is. My brain says Tae-yong, but the heart hopes for Yi Gak…

Tae-yong holds out his hand to her, and she takes it. The moment she does, suddenly the man transforms right before her eyes, wearing prince’s robes.

They look at each other with tears running down their faces, both thinking to themselves, “Even after three hundred years pass, I will love you.”

 
COMMENTS

I was holding out hope till the very last moment that Yi Gak had found a way back to Park-ha somehow, even if that would have flouted all narrative logic. (Hey, it’s not like the show has a lot of that left to lose.) But no, it’s Tae-yong standing there at the end, as the couple’s last words remind tell us that we’re looking at the three-hundred-years-later version, not the original.

And even though I balk at the idea of swapping out one Yoochun for another, reincarnated soul be damned, the show does manage to soften the blow by giving us the image of Yi Gak at the end to assure us that yes, he is the same person. (Kind of.) As in, this isn’t a cheap copy that we’re left to settle for, but as close a thing to the real deal as you can wrap your head around.

I confess to not being entirely sold on the reincarnated soul making up for the loss, but I appreciate the last scene’s depiction of the reunion—it isn’t the same pairing that we’ve been watching all series long, but because Park-ha sees Tae-yong dressed as Yi Gak (in her mind, it seems to be saying), it’s like their souls recognize each other. The material world and their current bodily trappings change from lifetime to lifetime, but the essence of their love is still there, and that recognition sweeps through them both.

It’s not a perfect happily ever after, but I’m strangely okay with it. Possibly because this show isn’t one that sticks with me emotionally in the first place so its flaws don’t upset me terribly either. I suspect that if the show had gone out on Tae-yong and Park-ha together, I would have been unhappy, but the swap to show Yi Gak standing there, reinforcing that it’s supposed to be the same soul, does go a long way toward getting me to accept it.

I do feel like Yi Gak sure got stuck with the short end of the stick, in that he loses both Bu-yong and Park-ha and has to live the rest of his life single. He’s got his sidekicks there, which helps, but he doesn’t get a consolation romance like Park-ha. I guess she’s the one who has to live knowing that Yi Gak is already dead, but somehow I think it’s worse to be him, either pining or grieving or in an existential state of “Well, I guess it all works out in the end, even if it’s not MY end.”

On the other hand, his Joseon storyline was always about bringing justice for the murder, not recovering a lost love. He starts out the drama grieving for his wife, and he never harbored illusions of being able to jump back in time to bring her back to life. So in that regard, he succeeds in what he set out to do: uncover the murderer, realize the truth, and punish the wrongdoers. If he hadn’t time-warped in the first place, he would still have had to deal with the grief of losing a loved one; at least in this case he knows he loved the right one?

I was satisfied with the wrap-up of the Joseon mystery in the final episode, and found Bu-yong’s sacrifice pretty heartbreaking. I understood it and felt for it, even though the very same action in 2012 had me scoffing and rolling my eyes. Her act had more emotional impact, and I felt the bittersweetness of Yi Gak’s discovery of what she’d done.

The finale also made me think that the seeds were planted well enough in advance to convince me that the writer DID know what he was doing. He clearly had the important beats worked out from the start, and the neatness of the resolution proves that this there was a decent amount of forethought given to the plot. The problem this drama had is the opposite of a lot of other live-shoot dramas, where you can sense the story unraveling at the seams and writers throwing whatever they can at the show to keep it going. Here, it feels like the show knew how it was going to end, but didn’t do a good job budgeting its plot in the middle portion and ended up whipping up whatever stories it could to keep the show treading water till it could dovetail with the planned part.

I do wish the plot mechanisms were more explained, though, since I’m still left wondering at the reason for the time-jump in the first place. We get a vague understanding that there’s a Fate-like power deciding when to move them forward and backward, and I think we’re safe in assuming that this Fate allowed Tae-yong to wake up after Yi Gak left his world. But it never quite addresses the Why of it all. Do random other people throughout history also get to visit their future selves, when something goes awry in their own worlds?

All in all, Rooftop Prince was a fluffy drama that I could watch easily without thinking too hard, especially when the show brought on the cute characters, fish-out-of-water jokes, hilarious sight gags and puns, and the sweet chemistry between Yoochun and Han Ji-min. It definitely is a show where the charm of the cast makes up for a lot.

Ultimately there wasn’t a whole lotta plot, which means that half the show was spent stretching out the same beats and repeating them with slight (but insufficient) variations on the same theme. Here’s a case of a show that should’ve been ten episodes at most, having to scrounge up stuff to fill twenty.

At least we had amusing interactions, with beautiful crying by Han Ji-min and an impressive leap in performance by Yoochun, who stretched himself a lot with this role. I’ll look forward to more things in both their futures—as well as the Joseon ducklings—though the production team is on notice.

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